Overemotional. Overreacting. Dramatic.
Words that are easy to throw around, but hurt to hear and are untrue.
Walk through this with me:
Imagine, actually mentally walking through the last time you heard these words, either from someone else or inside your own head.
How does your body feel?
What do you feel in your chest?
What do you feel in your neck?
What do you feel in your stomach?
That’s your brain telling your body that you are in physical danger and preparing you to protect yourself. From what? Old stuff.
You are walking around with a backpack of emotional junk. An event happens that makes our brain fire and look for something similar - something it knows and understands. Your emotional backpack is overflowing with past mistakes, hurts, trauma, loneliness, and perceived failures.
In your current life, you are confronted with life stuff that reminds your brain of old stuff, and you react to all that old junk. Your brain pulls emotion out of that backpack and lies to you, telling you it’s the exact same thing, even though it’s not. You are reminded of how small you felt, how vulnerable and how emotionally painful it was, and is now. And you react.
These reactions look different for each person and each situation. But, if you just lash out, say something you wish you hadn’t said, walk away, get in your car and drive, stop talking, and shut down, that’s a reaction to the lie your brain is telling you: “We’ve been here before. You’re in danger. Protect yourself.”
Those body sensations are your cue that this is old emotional backpack junk and you’re about to react. So how do you stop the reaction and start being intentional?
Pay attention to what your body is doing.
While this sounds easy, it isn’t. Your brain automatically registers new information: car alarm going off, a weird noise in your house, new pain in your arm. Once those experiences become routine, your brain starts filtering them out as “non-essential” information.
White noise is a great example of how this works. If you listen to a white noise machine long enough, your brain will stop “hearing” it. But, if you think about or talk about it, the brain registers the noise again. Amazing! But, this amazing talent works against us with the backpack junk. Your brain is used to that feeling in your chest, neck, and stomach and stops paying attention.
Make it pay attention. Make a mark every time you feel it during the day or sit down at the end of a day and think about stressful moments, paying attention to how your body is feeling. This takes your brain off autopilot and puts you back in charge.
Is this old or is this new?
As you begin to feel your body experiences, it will create this opportunity to ask the question: “Am I pulling this feeling out of my backpack or is it new?”
If you are pulling it out of your backpack, there is likely a reaction happening. You aren’t thinking, just doing. You can start cleaning out that backpack by being intentional about acting, not reacting. Here are some ways to be intentional:
Wear a physical reminder or have a visual reminder of your intent to not react. Remember that white noise? Getting outside your brain and creating a new sensation will help bring the reaction back in sight. Wear a rubber band around your wrist. Put a sticky note on your phone or in your mirror that simply says, “stop reacting”. Pulling in a new sensation will make your brain pay attention.
Go back later. That backpack can be incredibly heavy sometimes and you won’t always be able to stop reaching into it, especially in the beginning. If you have had an argument with a loved one that spun out of control, going back later and saying something like “Listen. I apologize for how I reacted. I was pulling up some old emotional junk and couldn’t stop it. Here is what I wish I would have done instead….” not only helps the other person, but causes your brain to refire, and rewire.
You are a unique person, made up of unique experiences with a unique brain. Finding the right tools for you to lighten up that backpack load will unleash the power of your brain to create an intentional and authentic life.
Mattie is a counselor, coach, and CEO of Cerebrations, LLC. With over 25 years of experience in understanding how the brain affects our emotions, reactions, and our experiences, she is passionate about empowering women to harness the power of their brain and body connection to create intentional action and deeper connections with their families. You can reach her at email@example.com or by scheduling a free consult chat.